TL;DR – Maybe he really doesn’t understand how the government works. Or maybe he’s pretending to be a novice at playing politics.
Lee Hsien Yang has explained his reason for speaking up so publicly about Lee Kuan Yew’s house. At the crux of it, he claimed he’s “only a man working to honour his father’s wishes”.
He also claimed that he is “simply very sad that it is in fact Hsien Loong using powers and instruments of the state to achieve preservation of the house for his personal agenda, whilst pretending to be an honourable son”.
Lee Hsien Yang further made this claim:
“Lee Hsien Loong took his grievance on a ‘private family matter’ to a committee of his subordinates. He sought to bypass the court system. This was an extra-judicial secret attack, aimed at undermining our father’s (Lee Kuan Yew’s) last will and his unwavering wish… Whether or not LHL supposedly recused himself from decision-making, his own subordinates cannot be the judge of a matter in which he has a direct personal interest.”
The main point about this issue that is really relevant to Singaporeans is whether PM Lee abused his power for personal gain.
We still can’t see how PM abused his power
What personal agenda does PM have in preserving the house? How does PM stand to gain if the house is preserved? Some people, including Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling, have claimed that preserving the house would somehow help PM stay in power.
We don’t understand how that can be.
Does anyone really think that Singaporeans will vote for PM or the PAP just because of some glorified memories of Lee Kuan Yew? Will his house somehow radiate some subliminal message that will act on a subconscious level to convince Singaporeans to vote for the PAP? What evidence do these people have for such an outrageous claim?
Ah, but look at the 2015 General Elections! PAP used the memory of Lee Kuan Yew to storm to a stunning victory! Surely that is proof that building a personality cult around Lee Kuan Yew that includes preserving the house would help PM and PAP remain in power?!
There is no clear evidence that conclusively indicates that PAP’s improved showing in the 2015 General Elections was due to Lee Kuan Yew’s passing or to any of the events around his passing. It is illogical to think that preserving his house would have any impact on how Singaporeans will vote in future general elections. Or that it would help PM Lee pave the way for his son to become the next or next-next PM. Incidentally, he already said he’s not interested.
More importantly, PM has stated many times that he wants to step down and hand over to the next generation of leaders soon. So, even if preserving the house does somehow influence Singaporeans to vote for the PAP, that would still not benefit PM personally.
Then why have this committee?
Because this house potentially has historical significance. As such, there is a need for the government to consider whether it should be preserved. And if it should, how best should it be preserved. That doesn’t just apply to Lee Kuan Yew’s house. It applies to any building that might have cultural or historical significance.
Take for example some of the houses along Mountbatten Road. These houses are built in what’s known as the Straits Eclectic architecture.
If the URA hadn’t stepped in, some of the owners of these houses would have torn them down and built more modern looking houses. And Singapore would have lost a chunk of our cultural heritage. So it’s not out of the ordinary that the government steps in to gently coerce owners of buildings that are culturally and/or historically significant to preserve them. There are precedents already.
Most of the time, ministers don’t need to get involved in deciding which houses to preserve and how to go about preserving those buildings. The ministers tend to leave such things to the civil servants in the relevant agencies (e.g. NHB and URA).
However, Lee Kuan Yew’s house is… different. It is, after all, Lee Kuan Yew’s house.
So a ministerial committee was set up to ensure that Lee Kuan Yew’s thinking in the matter as well as the family’s views are considered in greater depth. He’s, after all, one of our founding fathers and our first Prime Minister.
What is this committee supposed to do?
It also seems that Lee Hsien Yang has completely misunderstood what the committee is supposed to do. He thinks that this committee is “secret”. Except it’s not.
As early as in July 2016, Minister Lawrence Wong had already written to inform Lee Hsien Yang that the committee was set up to consider the options for the house.
Furthermore, in August 2016, Minister Lawrence Wong wrote another letter to inform Lee Hsien Yang about what the committee will and will not do. The letter stated:
“I (Minister Lawrence Wong) can also confirm that the Committee will not be considering the question of what will be should be done with the property (including whether it should be gazetted as a national monument). Nor will the Committee be making any recommendations in this specific regard. These matters are not within the terms of the Committee’s considerations.”
Huh? Then what is the committee supposed to do? The same letter that Minister Wong sent to Lee Hsien Yang stated:
“In essence, the Committee will be listing the different options, and the implications of these options and setting them out in the context of Mr Lee’s (Kuan Yew) wishes.”
You can read the letters in full here,
More importantly, DPM Teo has already stated the Government was not making an immediate decision on the House, and that no decision may be necessary for another 20-30 years. By then, it’s unlikely that PM Lee will still be PM. He might not even be around to influence the decision in any way.
So maybe Lee Hsien Yang misunderstood the government
It’s almost heartwarming to know that Lee Hsien Yang is so determined to honour his father’s wishes. Filial piety is an important Asian value. For now, we can give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps in his zeal, he may have misunderstood the government’s intentions. If so, we hope Lee Hsien Yang will look at the bigger picture and think about the effect of his actions on Singapore.
As Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat said in a Facebook post:
“Singapore was Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s lifelong passion and it is his legacy. Mr Lee would not wish for a family dispute to be turned into a public quarrel that hurt Singapore’s international standing. Neither would he wish for baseless allegations to be made against Government leaders and institutions, undermining confidence in the systems he created. Mr Lee would put Singapore’s interests above personal interests.”
So, once again, unless Lee Hsien Yang can come up with more concrete examples of how PM Lee is abusing his power for personal gain, we hope he can heed Janadas Devan’s words,
“Think about Singapore, and forget the rest.